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What to do if you’ve been overcharged by your phone network

If you feel that your phone company has overcharged you, then you may be within your rights to try and claim the money back. There are myriad ways you can do this. Here’s how to rectify matters as soon as possible.

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Why is my phone bill so high?

If you have an unusually high monthly phone bill then there are many reasons why this might be the case. It is always worth checking the small print before accusing your network of making billing errors. The following actions could account for an unusually high bill and, unfortunately, mean that you’re responsible for the extra charges:

  • Calls to premium or international numbers

  • Using your phone in destinations outside your plan’s free-roaming locations

  • Making charity donations via text

  • Exceeding your call, data or text limit

  • Your network has increased its prices. Most networks raise prices each year, usually by around three percent - although Three and Vodafone recently announced (as of time of writing in March 2021) that there will be a hike for their customers up to 4.5% 

To see where the higher chargers are, make sure you get an itemised bill that lists what you’re being charged for. Also be sure to check with anyone who borrows your phone – your partner, children or friends – to see if they’ve unknowingly made a premium call. 

How can I prevent overspending in the future?

Spending caps are your friend here. They can help prevent you from running up large bills as a result of exceeding your plan’s allowed minutes, texts or data. Most networks enable you to set these limits, either at zero - so you never spend more than your monthly allocation - or with a small allowance to cover minor out-of-contract charges. 

Another option is to choose a pay-as-you-go monthly plan. That way, there is no risk of going over your data allocation.

Some parental control settings also let you block calls to premium numbers. These might have been designed to prevent youngsters from running up bills, but they’re a useful feature that anyone can use to avoid unwittingly calling high-cost phone lines. Talking of kids, if your inflated bill is because little ones got hold of your phone, you may want to employ parental controls and block things like in-app purchases.

I’ve been charged for calls I didn’t make 

If you know for sure that your phone wasn’t used to make the premium calls for which you have been charged, then you need to gather evidence. For instance, you could take a screenshot of your call history. Next, get in touch with your provider and calmly explain the issue. If it’s a small error that is easily fixed, a simple call may be all that is required to instantly resolve the problem and get your money refunded.

Keep a note of the date, time and duration of any calls you make to your network provider to resolve errors, along with a log of emails and other forms of correspondence sent. While it’s not usually necessary, you may wish to make a legal case against your network if it refuses to acknowledge its mistake – and in that case, you will need to supply evidence of your efforts to solve the issue. 

Overcharging phone networks and getting your money back

In most cases, a simple call to your provider will resolve matters. You can usually contact your provider’s helpline for free when calling from your mobile. You can also use live chat options to get in touch. It’s also important that you pay your bill if you haven’t already – otherwise you may be fined for a late payment while you try to correct the error. 

Unfortunately, a lot of networks have phased-out email as a means of communication, which can make it difficult to establish a paper trail. If it doesn’t look like your issue is going to be resolved easily, make sure you take screenshots of your live chat sessions and make a record of any calls. If your network provider has an app, there may be an area in that where you can live chat so take screen grabs when you are doing that.

How do I complain to my mobile network?

You can complain to most networks by:

  • Phone (you may have to request a callback from the necessary team)

  • Letter

  • Email 

Make sure that your correspondence makes it clear that you are complaining about an unresolved error. Emails could be ignored if they simply alert a network provider that an error has been made, rather than complaining about a lack of resolution. Include the following in your email or letter of complaint:

Details of the billing area

  • A copy of the bill with any errors highlighted

  • Your information and any account name or number you have with your network

  • Don’t share any payment information in letters or web forms as these are not secure.

Most networks will tell you how long you have to wait for a response, which is usually around 14 days. You could send your letter via recorded delivery or add a read receipt to your email so that you have proof that your complaint has been received. Sometimes, network providers will respond by inviting you to take up your complaint with a team leader or manager. 

This option may not apply to all networks, so be ready to follow the complaints procedure for your network. Some networks may even refuse to act on your complaint if you haven’t followed procedures – for instance, if you approach a manager directly without initially contacting the company’s customer service team.

My network didn’t take my complaint seriously. What can I do?

If your complaint isn’t resolved even after following the company’s procedure, you may wish to contact the ombudsman or an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. The Citizens Advice Bureau can also offer advice and assistance. In these situations, ask your network provider for a deadlock letter. This is a formal refusal to resolve the problem that you can pass on to the ombudsman. You don’t need a deadlock letter to approach the ombudsman, however: if you haven’t received the letter eight weeks after requesting it, you can move forward without it.

Which ADR do I contact?

Ofcom stipulates that all communications providers must be members of an ADR scheme. Here are the ADRs for the main UK mobile networks.

Updated 19 August 2020
ThreeOmbudsman Services: Communications
EEOmbudsman Services: Communications
Tesco MobileOmbudsman Services: Communications
Virgin MobileCISAS
Sky MobileOmbudsman Services: Communications
giffgaffOmbudsman Services: Communications
SMARTYOmbudsman Services: Communications
ASDA MobileOmbudsman Services: Communications
O2Ombudsman Services: Communications

You must contact the necessary ADR within a year of your deadlock letter being issued. The ombudsman will act as an independent party, and will make a decision based on the following:

  • Both sides of the story

  • Current regulations

  • The law

  • Industry best practice

These schemes exist to resolve complaints fairly and impartially, but there’s no guarantee that the outcome will be in your favour. 

What if the ombudsman says no?

That’s it, unfortunately. You can take your complaint to the ombudsman again if you think a mistake was made or you have new information to present. The service is free, so you lose nothing if you have new evidence to offer. This will take time, though, and you need to make sure that the bill is paid during this time, otherwise the situation could get even messier.

Complaints by customers with disabilities

Some networks have specialised services to make it easier for people with disabilities to make a complaint. Make any issues clear to your network when you initially approach them, as most will be able to make the process more accommodating for you.